By some celestial alignment and confluence of book lists, I read two Kate Atkinson books in a row - Behind the Scenes at the Museum
, which I've already reviewed and very much enjoyed, and this one. I don't like this one nearly as much.
While there are still the turns of phrase I liked, and her characters continue to be interesting, the sense of using gimmick when it isn't needed has only grown. I would like to think that as she becomes more comfortable as a writer, she would rely less on gimmicks like amnesia and overwrought coincidences (I'm all for a good synchronicity, but there are limits). (Also that the main character's new wife, who I've never met - she may have appeared in a previous book - suddenly turns out to be a conwoman. I'm really not sure what that added to the book.)
Which is a shame, because there are bits of When Will There Be Good News?
that I liked a lot. But they never quite knit together and became something more. As a result, the book is fine but messy, and not in a good way.
This one seems to have the theme of surviving trauma. There's Reggie, the 16-year-old who looks 12, who lost her mother. (She also actually sounds twelve, so I'm not sure why Atkinson didn't just make her twelve.) There's Dr. Hunter, who survived unimaginable terror as a girl, and disappears for most of the novel. There's the hard-bitten cop, Louise, who has seen too many bad cases, and is trapped in a marriage with a man who seems really quite nice. (This is not a bad plotline, being married to the wrong person, even though they're lovely. But you have to do something with it.)
And there's the detective, Jackson Brodie, whose sister was murdered, whose brother committed suicide, who is badly injured at the start of the book, and doggedly tailed by Reggie, who wants him to look into Dr. Hunter's disappearance. (Brodie is or was, I guess, a private detective.)
There's lots about trust between husbands and wives, and husbands who abuse their wives' trust. There's a lot about loss. There's a lot about being the public face of loss. And these things are all interesting, the elements are all good, they just don't knit together into much.